A Vegas and golf history book comes to life in between swings at Las Vegas National Golf Club. –By Brian Hurlburt, Founder, Las Vegas Golf Insider. Article previously was included in Las Vegas Golf and Leisure Magazine.
Possibly one of the most little-known facts about golf in Las Vegas is that the area is a former host to a major championship on a major tour.
Most golf fans realize that Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour event in Las Vegas—the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational—but you’d be hard pressed to find folks who know that the LPGA Championship was played in Las Vegas from 1961-66.
Hall of Famer Mickey Wright won the tournament twice, including the first rendition in ’61. The event was a major championship on the LPGA Tour and remains on the LPGA’s schedule to this day, now known as the KPMG PGA Championship and played in Georgia.
What golfing fans of Las Vegas also may not realize?
Wright’s win (in addition to the subsequent three additional LPGA Championship events) AND Tiger Woods’ Las Vegas Invitational victory happened at what is now known as Las Vegas National Golf Club, arguably the Las Vegas Golf Region’s most historic layout. All four rounds of Wright’s win were played on the course, while just one of Woods’ five rounds were played at National. He shot a 1-under 70 at National, which was then called the Las Vegas Hilton Country Club.
Now you know.
Las Vegas National Golf Club opened as Stardust Country Club in 1961, the brainchild of Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame member and Vegas visionary Irwin Molasky. His partners included Merv Adelson, Moe Dalitz and Allard Roen, each Vegas legends in their own rights. It was one of the first, if not THE first, courses built to be the central feature of a golf course neighborhood. To this day, homes in the Paradise Palms community line National’s fairways, and in the heyday many were lived in by Vegas and international notables.
Among those who owned homes in the area were Bobby Darin, Johnny Carson, Joe Louis, Phyllis Diller, Delores Fuller, Shecky Greene, Max Baer, Foster Brooks, Juliet Prowse, Donald Sutherland, Dionne Warwick, and others. Famous and infamous Vegas locals included Circus Circus and Caesars Palace visionary Jay Sarno, Caesars Palace executive Ash Resnick, bookmaker Sam “Baby Shoes” Prezant, bookmaker Frank Rosenthal, Sahara owner Frank Schivo, and Howard Hughes’ right-hand man, Robert Maheu.
Give yourself bonus points if the name Rosenthal rings a bell.
Give yourself triple bonus points if you know how Resnick is tied to Rosenthal and also to one of the most famous Hollywood movies about Las Vegas and the mob, Casino.
Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal was one of Las Vegas’ most well-known casino executives and had ties to the mob. His life and times were the movie’s central theme, and his character, Sam “Ace” Rothstein, was portrayed by Robert Deniro. Rosenthal’s wife—real name Geraldine McGee—was played by Sharon Stone, and his partner-in-crime (the notorious mob enforcer Tony Spilotro) was played by Joe Pesci.
The Rothstein residence in the movie is located between the first and 18th fairways at National and was owned in real-life by Resnick. In the movie, an FBI plane lands in a fairway, which is the National’s 18th.
Note: in the true version of events, the plane actually landed in the 10th fairway of the private Las Vegas Country Club, which is located just a few minutes from National. Official records reveal that the plane ran out of gas while pilots/agents were monitoring potential mob activities in the gated neighborhood.
National General Manager Coy Wood has spent countless hours researching the course’s history and now historical markers located throughout the course’s tee boxes honor homes of the notable residents and other big moments that have occurred at National.
“It’s like actually living in the pages of a history book when you play here,” says Wood. “It seems like almost every day we learn about something new that happened at National. They say it’s interesting to relive history, but here you can actually walk in the footsteps of so many legends from so many different walks of life.”
Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame member and longtime PGA of America professional Joe Kelly is the course’s director of operations, but has been in Las Vegas for several decades and knows National’s mystique well. His hall of fame plaque hangs on the wall of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame exhibit, which is appropriately housed in National’s clubhouse. He takes it in stride when people spend most of their time taking photos with a slightly higher profile figure.
“What most people do when they come in the clubhouse is stop and look at the large photo of Tiger Woods with the Las Vegas Invitational trophy and two Vegas showgirls,” Kelly says. “Then they pull out their phones and take a photo. It’s kind of like our version of the ‘Fabulous Las Vegas sign’ photo opp. It’s very popular.”
While the Tour pros and celebrities who have frequented National get the majority of attention, two club professionals who worked at National have a special place in Kelly’s heart.
“When I think of this place, my mind immediately remembers the late Charlie Teel and also Jerry Roberts, two Las Vegas professionals who were the class of the profession in this area,” says Kelly, who still regularly sees Roberts, his fellow hall of fame inductee, at board meetings or other functions. “They were part of the fabric of golf in Las Vegas and helped make this destination and golf community into what it is today.”
Teel oversaw the course’s operations for many years, while Roberts worked at the course for a brief time early in his career before a stint at the Las Vegas Country Club and prior to running the private Spanish Trail Country Club for a couple decades.
Legend has it that while Teel was the pro at National, he gave lessons to Carson, who at the time was a late-night television icon. Carson traditionally opened his monologue with a mock golf swing and some believe that the smooth follow through was inspired by Teel.
There is so much history at National, but we have so little time and word count. We haven’t even yet written about how the Rat Pack used to hang out and party and play on the course and in the clubhouse.
Yes, main Rat Pack members Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra were said to be regulars, in addition to other extended members. Maybe in a future issue, Las Vegas Golf and Leisure Magazine editors will give us another 1,500 words to highlight that story.
It’s yet another National tale worth telling …
Las Vegas National Golf Club is a course partner of LasVegasGolfInsider.com
Las Vegas National’s professional Tour history
Over the years, the National has seen many professional tournaments beginning with the LPGA Tour in 1961. The PGA tour also hosted events beginning in 1967 with the Tournament of Champions. The tournament winner of both the LPGA and PGA events reads like a who’s who of professional golf. Mickey Wright, Sandra Haynie, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Lanny Wadkins, Al Gieberger, Davis Love III, and Jim Furyk.
Tiger Woods won the event in 1996, for his very first win on the PGA Tour. The highest score he shot for the tournament was at the National where he posted a 70. Arnold Palmer initially set the Course record of 63 in 1967 during the Tournament of Champions. The record held for 28 years until it was broken in 1991 when Tom Kite shot 62. David Graham also shares this course record.
* Home addresses have been omitted for privacy concerns of current homeowners, but when you stop by National, general manager Coy Wood just might share a few with you.
Pawnee Drive – Sam “Baby Shoes” Prezant (bookmaker associated with the mob)
Cayuga Parkway – Bobby Darin
Pawnee Drive – Judy Lynn (Country music singer and Miss Idaho 1955)
Pawnee Circle – Jerry Gordon (vice president Flamingo) and Tim Alexander (drummer for Primus)
Seminole Circle – Johnny Carson and Joe Louis (world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949)
Spencer Blvd. – Frank Rosenthal (the movie Casino was based on this person)
Cayuga Parkway – Phyllis Diller
Ottawa Circle- Dolores Fuller (actress/song writer for Elvis)
Commanche Drive – Dolores Fuller (actress/song writer for Elvis – Yes, she owned two homes.)
Ottawa Drive – Debbie Reynolds and Sonny Liston (world heavyweight boxing champion)
Pueblo Way – Max Baer (actor – Jethro Bodine)
Geronimo Way – Shecky Greene
Maricopa Way – Jay Sarno (Circus Circus/Caesars Palace) and Robert Bigelow (Bigelow Aerospace)
Seneca Drive – Frank Pellegrino (actor)
Seneca Drive – Tonni Kalash (Trumpet for Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass) and Cal Kalash (violinist)
Arapaho Circle – David Victorson (Caesars entertainment director)
Raindance Way – David Swan (comedian/actor)
Pueblo Way – Foster Brooks (actor) and Dionne Warwick (who lived there briefly, but used to rent it to the Riviera for their headlining acts such as Engelbert Humperdink, Bob Newhart, and Burt Bacharach)
Pima Lane – Donald Sutherland (actor)
Arapaho Circle – Juliet Prowse (actor, engaged to Frank Sinatra, dated Elvis Presley)
Cochise Way – Frank Schivo (Sahara part owner) and Robert Maheu (F.B.I., C.I.A., and right hand man to Howard Hughes)
Cochise Way. – The film Casino was filmed at this location. Ash Resnick (Caesars vice president with ties to the mob)
Algonquin Drive – Don Vincent (Wayne Newton’s music director)
What’s in a name?
Course names over the years:
Stardust Country Club
Sahara Golf Club
Sahara National Golf Club
Las Vegas Hilton Country Club
Las Vegas National Golf Club